A LOOK AT REVELATION 1:20
“As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands; the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20).
The commission to write the things he saw—the things which are and will be (1:19). It is clear that the seven lampstands are the seven churches. What is not clear is the meaning of the word angels and that has been much debated. Who are they? It should be observed that the word angel has a very wide application in Scripture. It is used of human messengers (Lk 9:52); spirit beings (Luke 1:11); good angels (Heb. 1:13-14); and evil spirits (Jude 6). Are they literal angels? Are they spirits? Or are they messengers? They certainly are not evil spirits! Bible students are divided, and views center around four suggestions:
- They are guardian angels of the churches (Heb. 4:14).
They point to the fact that the term describes heavenly beings throughout
the book of Revelation. They also tie it in with angels having an
important part in the Tribulation period, which is true. The idea of a
guardian angel for the nation is found in Daniel 2:1. Keith Krell gives
the evidence for this view as follows: “First, the normal New Testament
meaning of the word “angel” is of spirit beings that minister to
believers. Second, the Greek word angelos appears 176 times in the
New Testament. In the NASB, the word angelos is only translated
“messenger(s)” 7 times. So obviously, the vast majority of these
occurrences refer to spirit beings. Third, interpreting the book of
Revelation depends heavily on an understanding of the book of Daniel. In
Daniel, there is precedence for understanding these angels as possible
guardian angels for each congregation (Dan
10:13). Fourth, the author of Hebrews asks the rhetorical question: ‘Are
they (angels) not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for
the sake of those who will inherit salvation?’ Fifth, it would be unlikely
for John to interpret one symbol by using another. Although angelos can
definitely refer to human messengers, would Jesus have chosen that
particular word in this context when he was making a rather concise
interpretation? Finally, the figure of the lampstands is not used
elsewhere in the Scriptures. However, the stars, as symbols of angels, are
used elsewhere. Wherever the word star is used symbolically, it is always
used of an angel. This is true in both the Old and New Testaments.” Impressive and solid, but however, not
Note carefully these letters are NOT addressed to the churches, but in each case they are addressed to the angel (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). The Greek grammar uses second personal pronouns in chapters 2-3 that look to the individual angels as their subjects and presumably through them to the churches they represent. In the case of the rebukes they are second person singular pronouns that look first to the angel (messenger). For example the words “I hold this against you” (2:4) uses the second personal pronoun, indicating the Lord holds something against the angel. Nowhere in these letters are the angels told to say this to the churches. Thus the sins listed are identified with the angel. Angels cannot partake of the tree of life (2:7), be imprisoned or killed by men (2:10-11), teach false doctrine (2:14, 20), are not written in the Book of Life (3:5). Nor does a guardian angel fall and need to repent (2:5). Garland observes: “If the angel is a heavenly guardian angel, then almost all that is said of him must be strictly representative of the people within the church he guards.” Osborne comments “…strange if the addresses were literal angels.” If these are guardian angels, it appears they are not doing their job. This is a major problem for this view.
- Human messengers from each church. Constable writes:
“These would have been men such as Epaphroditus and Epaphras,
representatives of the churches in Philippi and Colossae, who went to Rome
to visit Paul. These representatives may have come to Patmos to visit John
and carried Revelation back with them to their respective congregations.”
This upholds the meaning of angel to be messenger as seen in Matt. 11:10;
Luke 7:24, 9:52; and James 2:25. There are three problems with this view:
First, Human messengers are never called stars in Scripture. Second, if
this is true, God seems to be holding accountable ones that are secondary
individuals for the church. Third, there is no indication of
representatives being at Patmos in the text.
- Related to the view above, is the view that the
messenger is the pastor, elder, or leader of the churches. Kistemaker
says, “The interpretation that the messengers to the congregations are
their pastors makes sense if we view pastors as sent forth and
commissioned by Christ. They are responsible for the spiritual development
of God’s people.”
This would make more sense, for they are responsible for the conditions of
the church. However, many point out that Pastors are never referred to as
angels. Also that the churches of the first century was run by a plurality
of elders, an individual would not be responsibility for the condition of
- That the lampstand and angels are a personification of the churches. Mounce says these are prevailing spirit of the church. Personification is often utilized in Revelation. The personification of angels typifies the spiritual character of the churches and Christ is addressing that character. The problem is that the term angel can mean a literal angel or mean messenger, but not spirit. I do not see any evidence in the text for this personification.
As one looks at the text, the following elements are observed: First, the word angel must retain some connection with its meaning, since a double personification is unlikely, especially in light there is no double personification of the lampstand. Second, in both the lampstand and the stars are clearly stated as to their meaning (churches/ angels). The word angello literally means “to deliver a message.” Thus, the word could be translated Angel or messenger, both are valid translations. It is interesting that Bullinger brings out that although the angel of the church/ assembly is never used in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s epistles. It is used in the synagogue where there was the Sheliach Tsibbur (angel of the Assembly), who was the mouthpiece of the congregation. He was the messenger of God to the assembly. In these letters, John uses Jewish and Old Testament terms in writing to these churches (i.e. synagogue; tribulation; overcomes; teaching of Balaam, Balak; hidden manna; Jezebel; etc.; all Jewish imagery). Could it be that John is using this Jewish term for the human messengers in the churches of his day? Third, what is said of the angel is also said of the churches. Garland notes:
In most cases, the grammar of the letters to each church implicates each individual angel. This is reflected by the preponderance of verb forms in the second-person singular. Yet the things which are said to the angel include aspects which could only be true of the wider church membership.
In light of this, it appears the best solution is to take the word as messenger, thus being human messengers to the church, namely the Pastor or leader. What Christ says to the messenger as an individual is also true of the entire church.
 Robert Brock, THE SEVEN CHURCHES IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION, 9
 Keith Krell, Awesome and Awestruck (Revelation 1:9-20), Electronic Media
 Thomas, REVELATION, 1:117.
 Garland, THE TESTAMONY OF JESUS CHRIST, 1:197.
 Osborne, REVELATION 98.
 Constable, NOTES ON REVELATION, 18; also the view in the Scofield Bible, 1331.
 Kistemaker, REVELATION103. Also the view of Walvoord, REVELATION, 53; Tenney, INTERPRETING REVELATION, 55.
 Garland, 197.
 Mounce, REVELATION, 86.
 W.E. Vine, “angels,” EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY, 1:55.
 E.W. Bullinger, THE APOCALYPSE, 67; also see Craig S. Keener, IVP BIBLE BACKGROUND COMMENTARY: NT, 168.
 Garland, 198.